Stanford baseball’s regular season comes to a close against California this weekend, as the Card heads to Berkeley for a three-game series that has rivalry drama written all over it.
The No. 23 Golden Bears (31-18, 13-11 Pac-10) are just one spot ahead of the No. 24 Cardinal (30-20, 12-12) in both the national and conference rankings, and they will be looking for revenge after Stanford took both non-conference games between the teams at Sunken Diamond earlier this season. The Cardinal pulled off a similar feat in 2009, after having already been swept by the Golden Bears in a weekend series to open Pac-10 play the same year.
This time around, Stanford will head to Berkeley to end the season, coming in as one of three teams tied for fifth in the Pac-10 and hoping to unseat fourth-place Cal. Unfortunately for the Cardinal, Arizona and USC, the two other schools with 12-12 conference records, will face off against the two teams at the bottom of the standings–namely, Washington and Washington State–in their respective series this weekend. Stanford holds the tiebreak over Arizona but not USC, so the Cardinal cannot guarantee a fourth-place finish unless it gets some help, even in the case of a sweep.
Ending the season on a high note will be especially important, with selections for the 64-team NCAA Tournament to be released on Monday at 9:30 a.m. and regional play beginning on June 3.
The Golden Bears won’t go down easy, however, in what should be one of the most evenly matched series of the season for Stanford. The squads boast two of the Pac-10’s most potent offenses, with nearly identical numbers–the Cardinal holds only slight advantages in batting average (.301 to .284), on-base percentage (.360 to .353), runs (270 to 261) and homers (23 to 22).
But the Cardinal was held to three or fewer runs in each of its four games last week, scoring just twice before the eighth inning over that stretch and relying on late-inning heroics in 1-0 and 2-1 victories over Arizona. The pair of game-winning rallies–the only two times this season that Stanford has won while scoring fewer than three runs–was made possible by stalwart pitching against the Wildcats, as the Pac-10’s top offense was punched out 25 times on the weekend despite averaging just over five offensive strikeouts per game on the season.
Cal is looking to avoid a similar fate at the hands of the Cardinal hurlers. The Golden Bears are fresh off a 15-hit dismantling of Pacific on Tuesday in a 9-2 win, behind four base-knocks from senior left fielder Austin Booker. Booker is one of just seven graduating seniors between the teams in this series, and he joins Stanford catcher Zach Jones as one of only two senior position players who have held a consistent starting job in the field this year.
Jones has been solid with three hits against Cal this year, but Stanford’s go-to guy in the first two meetings with the Golden Bears was sophomore centerfielder Jake Stewart, whose welcome return from appendicitis earlier this month couldn’t have come at a better time. After recording two hits in a 3-2 win over Cal on Feb. 22, Stewart came up huge with four RBI in a 9-5 victory on April 25, launching a pair of two-run doubles off senior righthander Kevin Miller.
Stanford was in dire need of clutch hitting in a 3-1 loss to Cal Poly this Tuesday. Sophomore third baseman Stephen Piscotty, still leading the Cardinal in batting average by 40 points, got on base four times but never came home to score, with the bottom half of the order recording just two hits. Piscotty, Stewart and sophomore leftfielder Tyler Gaffney–who rides a 15-game hitting streak into the series–will need to find a way to spark offensive production against the Golden Bears.
Play will kick off in Berkeley this afternoon at 2:30 p.m., before a rare Saturday doubleheader begins with planned 12:00 and 3:00 p.m. start times.